Monday, October 18, 2010

Why can't Google create a social networking site that's successful in the US?

The New York Times reports:

“Google’s culture is very much based on the power of the algorithm, and it’s very difficult to algorithm social interaction,” Ms. Li said.

For example, the introduction of Buzz in February caused a wave of criticism from privacy advocates and everyday users, because it automatically included users’ e-mail contacts in their Buzz network. Google quickly changed the service so that it suggested friends instead of automatically connecting them.

Before Buzz’s release to the public, it was tested only by Google employees.
Why wasn't that good enough? The NYT quotes one blunt employee:
“There is some belief at Google that their DNA is not perfectly suited to build social products, and it’s a quite controversial topic internally,” said a person who has worked on Google’s social products who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

“The part of social that’s about stalking people, sharing photos, looking cool — it’s mentally foreign to engineers,” the person said. “All those little details are subtle and sometimes missed, especially by technical people who are brought up in a very utilitarian company.
This poses a huge financial danger to Google:
[A]s people spend more time on closed social networks like Facebook, where much of the data they share is off limits to search engines, Google risks losing the competition for Web users’ time, details of their lives and, ultimately, advertising.

“Google’s made a lot of money helping people make decisions using search engines, but more and more people are turning to social outlets to make decisions,” said Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, a technology research and advisory firm. “And whenever people make decisions, there’s money involved.
That reminds me of an insight given by a Metafilter commenter named "blue beetle":
If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold.

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